Home SCIENCE The Mars Ingenuity helicopter has been flying for more than a year...

The Mars Ingenuity helicopter has been flying for more than a year – The Washington Post

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The Mars Ingenuity helicopter has been flying for more than a year - The Washington Post

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If it does fly, and that is overwhelming ifthe small helicopter will be taken to the skies on Mars five times – max – in 31 days.

But in the past year, the fierce little helicopter known as Ingenuity has reached the Martian skies 28 times, far beyond expectations and giving scientists a new vantage point on the Red Planet. For the past 13 months, it has remained high for a total of nearly an hour, traveling nearly 4.3 miles, with a top speed of 12.3 mph and reaching a maximum altitude of 39 feet.

It traversed craters, took photos of hard -to -reach regions on earth, and served as a surprisingly resilient scout that adapted to the changing Martian environment and survived the harsh dust storms and cold nights.

Now engineers and scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are worried that their four-pound, solar-powered drone on Mars, may be nearing the end of its life.

Winter is coming on Mars. Dust kicks in, coating Ingenuity’s solar panels and preventing it from fully charging its six lithium-ion batteries. This month, for the first time since it landed on Mars more than a year ago, Ingenuity missed a planned communication session with Perseverance, the Mars rover where it hopes to send data and receive commands from the Earth.

What’s new in the Percy the Mars rover?

Will a dust-coated Ingenuity survive a Martian winter where temperatures regularly drop below minus-100 degrees Fahrenheit? And if not, how should the world remember the small helicopter that cost $ 80 million to build and over five years to design and build? Those closest to the project say that as time passes for Ingenuity, it’s hard to overstate its achievements.

“The helicopter just exceeded initial expectations,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division, told The Washington Post.

Due to the thinness of the Martian atmosphere, the scientists and engineers who worked on Ingenuity were unlikely to succeed in the experiment. Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s science mission directorate, said at the time it was an effort that forced NASA to find “the right line between crazy and innovative.”

So when the first flight was successful, on April 19, 2021, NASA announced it as a Wright Brothers moment. In recognition, Ingenuity has a piece of fabric the size of a seal from the sibling aircraft, known as the Flyer, attached to a cable under the solar panel.

The intelligence flew to Mars tied under the belly of the Perseverance Rover, the star of NASA’s latest mission to Mars. After traveling approximately 300 million miles in seven months, Perseverance went through a dramatic landing in February 2021 under a parachute with a secret code written inside that says, “Dare Mighty Things.”

The rover, which is the size of an SUV, landed in an area of ​​Mars known as the Jezero crater, which sometimes holds water and can provide clues to the history of the planet and whether there is life there. The rover is gathering rocks and soil samples that NASA hopes will be returned to Earth on a future mission, as well as using its seven instruments to conduct scientific experiments and test new technologies.

Intelligence is something of an add-on, a demonstration of technology that could prove useful for future missions and allow space agency scientists to explore more of the Martian landscape than they can by lupa.

But flying an autonomous drone to Mars would be extremely difficult. The atmosphere there is only 1 percent the density of Earth, so to produce rise, the helicopter’s four-foot-wide blades have to rotate very fast-2,500 rotations per minute.

“We did it as an experiment,” Glaze said. “So it doesn’t have to have the flight -qualified components that we use on large missions like Perseverance.” Some, like parts from smartphones, are even bought outside, so “there are chances they don’t perform in the environment as we expect. And so there’s a risk that it won’t work.”

As Ingenuity continued to fly, ground controllers began to realize that their small project could achieve big things. Before its fifth flight, they wrote in a blog post that “our helicopter is more stable than we expected. The power system we have been working on for years provides more than enough energy to keep working our heaters at night and fly during the day.The off-the-shelf components for our guidance and navigation systems are also great, as is our rotor system.You name it, and it works well or better.

As this continues to perform, scientists at NASA have become increasingly intrigued by the idea that perhaps this helicopter could be an important part of the mission.

“What happened was, and it’s really key, after Ingenuity performed well in the first five flights, the science team from Persistence came up to us and said,‘ You know, we want this helicopter to keep working. to help us in our exploration and achieving our scientific goals, ‘”Glaze said.

So NASA decided to continue flying.

On its sixth flight, Ingenuity had a problem. The helicopter navigates using a camera that takes 30 photos a second of the terrain below, each with a timestamp. An algorithm predicts what the camera should have seen at that particular moment based on photos taken moments before. It then calculates the difference between the predicted location and the actual location of the ground features to correct its position, speed and altitude.

But on this flight, the timestamps are off. As a result, Ingenuity looks like it was flown by a drunk driver, “adjusting its speed and tilting back and forth in an oscillating pattern,” NASA said on the blog.

However, it landed safely within 16 feet of its target because of “substantial efforts made to ensure that the helicopter’s flight control system had an adequate‘ stability margin, ’” NASA wrote. In other words: “In a real sense, Ingenuity has overcome the situation.”

Flight 9, in July, was also a “nail biter,” as NASA wrote. Not only because Ingenuity broke records for flight duration and travel speed, but because it flew over the crater, “a place called‘ Séítah ’that is difficult to pass using a land vehicle such as the Perseverance rover , “NASA wrote on its blog.

Because the Ingenuity was designed as an experimental demonstration of the technology, the engineers designed it to fly on almost flat terrain, which is easier to navigate using its onboard camera. For this flight, however, Ingenuity will have to swim into the crater. That requires reducing its speed and for engineers to tweak the navigation algorithm. The flight was successful, and Ingenuity was able to restore color images of the region, including a location that some think “may record some of the deepest aquatic atmosphere in old Lake Jezero,” NASA wrote. “Due to the tight mission schedule, they may not be able to visit these rocks using the rover, so Ingenuity may offer the only opportunity to study these deposits in any detail.”

Since then, Ingenuity has continued to thrive, overcoming obstacles. At one point in September, it detected an engine problem during its preflight checkout “and did exactly what it was supposed to do: It canceled the flight.”

About a month later, the problem was fixed, and it returned to flying.

In April, it made another discovery – flying over the parachute that slowed the rover for its landing on Mars, it saw shell fragments protecting the rover as it plunged toward the Martian surface. There are a couple of man -made things, sitting on another planet, images that “just confuse my mind,” Glaze said. Previously, NASA spotted vehicles on the surface of Mars by a rotating spacecraft in the distance. But here are the pieces of hardware, up close, in the very high sense that the “Dare-Mighty-Things” encoded in the chute is visible through a thin layer of red Martian dust.

Then, 10 days later, on April 29, it took its last flight to date, No. 28, a quarter-of-a-mile jaunt lasting two and a half minutes. Now NASA is wondering if that’s the latter.

In the space agency’s view, the helicopter’s inability to fully charge its batteries caused the helicopter to enter low power. When it is asleep, the helicopter’s onboard clock resets, the way home clocks in after a power outage. So the next day, as the sun was rising and the batteries began to charge, the helicopter was out of sync with the rover: “Essentially, when Ingenuity thought it was time to contact Perseverance, the rover’s base station wasn’t listening, “NASA. wrote.

Then NASA did something unusual: Mission controllers ordered Perseverance to spend almost all of May 5 listening for the helicopter.

Finally, call home little Ingenuity.

The radio link, NASA said, “is stable,” the helicopter is healthy, and the battery is charging at 41 percent.

But, as NASA warns, “a radio communication session doesn’t mean Ingenuity is no longer in the woods. Rising (reducing light) dust in the air means charging the helicopter’s batteries. to a degree that will allow vital components (such as clocks and heaters) to stay vibrant at night presents a major challenge.

Maybe Ingenuity will fly again. Maybe not.

“At this point, I can’t tell you what’s going to happen next,” Glaze said. “We are still trying to find a way to fly it again. But Perseverance is the main mission, so we need to start setting our expectations appropriately. “

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